Lombard on the Necessity of Believing in Resurrection

At the very beginning of his treatment of resurrection, the final judgment, and heaven and hell in the Sentences (book IV, dist. 43-50), which will run to the end of his work, Peter Lombard (c.1096-1160) emphasizes the necessity, for Christians, of believing in the future resurrection. He begins:

Finally, we must briefly discuss the condition of resurrection, and the mode of those who will rise, and also the day of judgment and the quality of mercy. “I am unable to satisfy all the questions that are usually raised about this subject, but no Christian should in any way doubt that the flesh of all those who have been born and will be born, and have died and will die, will be resurrected” (Augustine, Enchiridion 23.84). For Isaiah says, “The dead will rise, and those who will be in the tombs will rise” (cf. 26:19).

To a quotation from Augustine’s famous treatment of resurrection in the Enchiridion, he adds biblical confirmation from Isaiah. Lombard then quotes 1 Thess 4:13-17, which gives him the framework for some of distinction 43 on the events surrounding the resurrection (the sound of the trumpet; the middle of the night; then, whether the elect will remember their past sins; those who will be found alive at Christ’s return; in what sense Christ is judge of “the living and the dead”; and that all will rise incorruptible). His first little chapter of the distinction thus concludes: “The truth of resurrection, and the cause and order of those who will rise, is very clearly insinuated in these words.”

The way Lombard begins his treatment of eschatology, quoting Augustine on the necessity of believing in the resurrection–“no Christian should in any way doubt” (nullatenus ambigere debet christianus; Augustine reads, nullo modo dubitare)–is highly instructive. In Christian theology from the Fathers through the Reformation, the resurrection was an indubitable article of faith. Yet it was–and is–also attended by numerous intellectual difficulties: What about those with physical deformities or scars? What about those who are stillborn? What age will one be in the resurrection? Lombard’s dist. 44, which deals with these questions, opens this way: “But some tend to hesitate and ask, at what age and in what bodily state will everyone be resurrected?”

These questions, arising from this “hesitation,” can only be asked on the basis of accepting that there will be a future resurrection–what Lombard calls the veritas resurrectionis, quite clearly insinuated in Is 26 and 1 Thess 4, for instance. How this resurrection will take place is the mystery, and the subject of many scholastic disputations. In modern theology, this intellectual difficulty and mystery begins to creep forward, into faith in the resurrection itself. The seemingly irresolvable difficulties attending the thought of the long dead rising in new bodies, the how, has been thought to challenge the that.

But this distinction is crucial to the New Testament witness about resurrection itself. That Jesus rose from the dead is the central confession of the entire New Testament; how he rises or the “mode” of his rising, why, that is, he sometimes goes unrecognized (Luke 24:16; John 20:14; 21:4) or can pass through closed doors (John 20:19) or disappear (Luke 24:31), is not explained to us. Because Jesus’ resurrection is the “firstfruits” and therefore model of our own (1 Cor 15:20), this is mirrored directly in the theology of our own, future resurrection.

The very layout of Lombard’s treatment of resurrection in book IV is, then, a reflection of the shape of the biblical witness: he begins with the necessity of believing in the resurrection on the basis of Scripture (dist. 43) before moving onto the difficulties implied by this belief, the questions for which Scripture offers no answer (dist. 44). Both of those are, further, encapsulated in the brief, opening quotation from Augustine. That we will rise is a basic Christian confession–“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died” (1 Thess 4:14)–but how, the “mode” as Lombard calls it, is the mystery.

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3 thoughts on “Lombard on the Necessity of Believing in Resurrection

  1. Mr. Harris, I read your article ““Was St. Thomas Crucified for You?” / Corinthians 1:12-13 and the Premodern Critique of Theological Schools of Thought,” in the Journal of Theological Interpretation as I was researching for a seminary paper. I found your thesis to be similar to mine as I was trying to encourage ecumenical unity. I wonder, though ,how you deal with areas of difference that are worth dividing over. How do we determine what those issues are? How do we go about dividing over those issues and/or seeking reconciliation? Certainly Paul was opposed to false teachers yet he assumed unity in the body of Christ. Seeing as most false teachers arise from within the body of Christ (at least the visible body) I think these questions are very important as we pursue ecumenical unity.

    • Mr. Cartwright, thanks for your question. The short answer I would give would be: discernment. As a longer answer, the fundamental concern of the New Testament, as I read it, and the Church Fathers, is with whether or not a teacher comes ‘from God.’ This seems to be the source of the basic opposition between true/false apostles, brothers, teachers, prophets, etc. If they do come from God, then we are already united with them in Christ; if they do not, then we should be wary of their teaching. Now, whether or not someone is a teacher sent from God is a matter for discernment. But the two are closely tied together: false teachers will bring forth false teaching, as a result of being false teachers. So Paul, and the rest of the New Testament, would I think disagree that false teachers arise from within the body of Christ. John can even say, “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us” (1 John 2:19). What is interesting about 1 Corinthians is that the premodern commentators as a whole understood the teachers Paul is alluding to not as being false teachers–they were still teaching true doctrine–but only as teaching in a false way, that is, making use of worldly wisdom that undermined their true teaching. They were true teachers from God, but teaching badly. Now, all this does not say much on the question of particular issues that might be worth dividing (and reconciling) over. That is because, for the New Testament and the Fathers, false teachers do not need to be ‘divided’ from; they are already divided from us in Christ. How this play out in relation to particular issues is a matter of discernment. Those who are false teachers, not from God, are not going to teach the true gospel, for instance. But whether dividing from someone who teaches the saving wisdom of the cross of Christ but differs from us in how they understand, say, the nature of Scripture, is not simply a failure of love, is a question we ought to ask ourselves. I hope that’s a helpful answer to you.

      • Mr. Harris,
        First, I apologize for hijacking this thread with an unrelated topic. I did not see another way to contact you on this page. Second, yes this is a helpful answer. I feel as if you touched on this thought in the introduction to your article and I would agree that those who are false teachers do not belong to us though it appears they come from us because the visible body of Christ is a Corpus Mixtum (wheat and tares). I also agree that we can use the wisdom of all teachers as long as we process with discernment because all truth is God’s truth and no one human teacher has a monopoly on truth. Even heretics and unbelievers have some good things to say. Paul, for example, quoted a pagan poet. However, I would not look to them to determine my system of thinking or my world view. What I am concerned with discussing is the nature of what makes something primary versus secondary theologically. I have chosen to pursue you about this because your article exuded a well rounded ecumenical spirit. Most scholars have latched onto a particular school of thought (e.g. Calvinism, Lutheranism, etc.) and are therefore much more rigid in their ideas of where the line is drawn. Your answer that discernment is the key to determining the line is a bit vague. That discernment has to be based on something. I would argue that it is based on scripture. As you said Christ is the one true teacher. That said there are many schools of interpretation of the same scripture and each person is using their own discernment to land in different places based on the same text. If we all have the same Spirit shouldn’t we be landing in the same place?
        In your response you said, “But whether dividing from someone who teaches the saving wisdom of the cross of Christ but differs from us in how they understand, say, the nature of Scripture, is not simply a failure of love, is a question we ought to ask ourselves.” I would ask you to clarify your thoughts on this. I would say that someone who differs in their understanding of the nature of Scripture is not capable of teaching the saving wisdom of the cross because they don’t understand the Scripture to be the authoritative word of God. Therefore any teaching they espouse is their own judgement not subject to the discerning authority of the scripture. They may teach something resembling the gospel but any gospel that is not the one passed down by apostolic authority (which comes from God) is lacking. So, obviously I would put the nature of Scripture in my list of primaries based on Scripture’s testimony about itself. While I would accept the wisdom of a theologically liberal scholar on their understanding of well exegeted passage or some archaeological findings I would not certainly weigh their thoughts against the authority of scripture and I would take their conclusions with a grain of salt because I know their findings are based on their own understanding as a teacher rather than the authority of the one true teacher. And we must not lean on our own understanding but in all our ways acknowledge Christ.
        I hope I am articulating myself well. Often so many thoughts swirl through my head that they become a little garbled on the way out. If you have the time and inclination I would appreciate continued dialogue on this subject as I am soon graduating from seminary and am in the process of discerning my calling and this is one of the questions that I am still wrestling with in regards to that. Thanks again.

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